Thursday, 16 April 2015

FTA: industry must solve its driver crisis . . .


FTA: industry must solve its driver crisis

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The transport industry needs to find its own solution to the driver shortage, Freight Transport Association managing director of policy and communications James Hookham told 600 delegates at the FTA summit, ‘Solving the Driver Crisis’. An impressive array of speakers took to the stage for the free conference at Coventry’s Ricoh Stadium, including employers, civil servants, and a truck driver.

Hookham said: “The shortage of qualified drivers is a problem that only the road freight industry itself can solve, even though the government has helped and will help.

“Road freight is competing for talent with other sectors where shorter hours, higher pay and better conditions are on offer.”

“I’m the prophet of doom,” warned FTA chief executive Theo de Pencier, who went on to outline key figures compiled by the association. The statistics suggested that, while the number of LGV drivers in employment had declined by 12.5 per cent in 10 years, there was currently a shortfall of 50,000 to 60,000 drivers, and the number of LGV drivers unemployed and claiming benefit had fallen by 15 per cent between 2001 and 2013.

“If you are warm and breathing and hold an LGV licence, then you can get a job,” he asserted.

And the situation was not going to get any better. Over 60 per cent of LGV drivers were in the 45 – 65 year-old bracket, and drivers were falling out of the industry far faster than they were being replaced, he said – reiterating some of the trends and figures that have appeared in this publication (Transport Operator, January/February).

A trans-European perspective was provided by two speakers: Norwegian Arne Knaben, who is managing director of summit sponsors Volvo Trucks UK & Ireland; and Caroline Blom, policy manager of skills and development at Transport en Logistiek Nederland, the Dutch equivalent of the FTA.

Knaben explained how haulage rates were under pressure across Europe, and this had had a very detrimental impact on wages: “It’s a tough job for everyone. Thirty years ago in Norway the truck driver’s wage was double the national average wage… now it is no more than the national average wage.”

Blom said the demographics in Holland were similar to those in the UK.

“If they all work until retirement age, then one third of all the Dutch truck drivers will retire in the next 10 years,” she said.

Many speakers acknowledged that wages and conditions had been driven down for drivers by decades of competition-driven cost-cutting, and that while wages were going up because employers were competing for a diminishing resource, companies that used transport were reluctant to improve rates.

Jason Richards, head of driving at agency Pertemps, said: “We have to change the cost-driven narrative that dominates the industry. We as an industry are going to have to shoulder increased costs. The costs of employment are going up, as we have seen in the last 12 months.”

Meanwhile Ray Colesby, the regional operations manager for south Wales and southern England at the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), flagged up a demographic problem within his own organisation, which might have far-reaching impacts if the industry wants to recruit and train more unqualified drivers to LGV standards.

“Thirty per cent of all DVSA driving examiners are age 55 or over,” he confessed.

DVSA had 305 examiners qualified for LGV driving tests, and these had to be spread nationwide over regions where the number of candidates for tests varied greatly, and demand for tests themselves was concentrated into Thursdays and Fridays.

Speakers from the armed forces pointed out that, while service leavers provided a large number of potential recruits who already held LGV licences, the industry should not assume that such individuals would jump at the chance of driving a truck for the rest of their working lives.

Jenny Pittam, national account employment consultant at the Ministry of Defence’s resettlement service Careers Transition Partnership, pointed out that most service leavers had a suite of skills they could use to obtain employment, and were used to changing roles every two years or so.

“Truck driving is a transition for many of them, even if they do take it up – it’s not seen as a civilian career.

“Ask yourselves what you are doing to make logistics career Plan A for them, and not Plan B?

“Military leavers are used to perceiving themselves as being part of an elite brand, and will look for jobs where their skills can be used.”

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